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USC at Washington State: Three things you need to know

USC interim head coach Donte Williams is seen between two blurred Trojans players as he conducts practice.
USC interim head coach Donte Williams conducts practice Wednesday afternoon.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

USC (1-1) vs. Washington State (1-1)

Location: Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Fox.

Weather forecast: 63 degrees, high chance of rain.

Latest line: USC by 8.5 points.

About USC: After a difficult, emotional week which opened with Clay Helton’s long-awaited ouster, USC must take its show on the road and move forward if it has any hope of salvaging the 2021 season. USC interim coach Donte Williams has assured there won’t be many major changes and that he plans to lean on his coordinators. But for his sake, he better hope both sides of the ball look better than they did last Saturday. This Saturday’s effort will tell us a lot about whether USC can actually save its season, post-Helton.

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Raised for greatness, Crenshaw’s Donte Williams is the first Black head football coach at USC, the program his mother dreamed he’d join.

About Washington State: It’s not a great sign when the story of your season so far is the coach’s refusal to comply — or, at least, confirm his compliance — with university policy regarding vaccination for COVID-19. That’s where Washington State finds itself after two weeks of the season. The Cougars have already lost to Utah State and needed an FCS tune-up last week against Portland State to set the table for USC. Weird things tend to happen in Pullman, but this is a lopsided matchup as far as talent is concerned. USC pummeled Washington State at the Coliseum last season, but the off-the-field variables at play this week make matters a bit more uncertain on the road.

Three things you need to know:

1. USC has won 43 of the last 50 meetings between these conference foes, but the last time the Trojans traveled to Pullman in 2017, Sam Darnold fumbled away a potential comeback and the fifth-ranked Trojans fell. Outside of that defeat, USC has lost just three times in its other 24 trips to Pullman — and not since 2002. This time, however, USC may have to contend with the elements, as rain is in the forecast.

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2. Kedon Slovis threw five touchdowns and at one point completed 18 straight passes in last season’s dominant win over Washington State. The junior quarterback is off to an uneven start this season. His 223-yard performance against Stanford was the lowest yardage output for any full game he’s played at USC as the Trojans’ aerial attack continues to stagnate. We’ll see if offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is able to make the necessary changes to help jump-start the offense. Getting Slovis going should be at the top of his (long) checklist.

3. Could this be the week that USC’s defense finally gets to the quarterback? USC is the only team in the conference without a sack. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando dismissed any concerns about the pass rush, pointing to the fact that both quarterbacks have gotten the ball out quick to respond to USC’s regular blitzes. That may be true. But from a situational standpoint, USC’s defense could sure use a sack or two to help stop drives. Here’s betting Drake Jackson, Korey Foreman, and Co. get to the quarterback a couple times.


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